Special Report
Participants from Germany and Iran visit DESA: Women helping women in the aftermath of war, Oct 16, 2015
The walled Old City of Dubrovnik has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
Romana Tomich was thirteen when war reached her home of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Many Croatians had fled to the medieval, walled Old City in the hope that it would be safe by virtue of its world heritage status, but by October of 1991 Serbian and Montenegrin forces began a siege that would last until the following May. For nearly eight months the city was attacked from the hills overlooking its historic walls and iconic red tiled roofs. With the boys and men of Dubrovnik called to defend the city, it was left to women to keep life going within it. To help one another survive, fifteen women -including Ms. Tomich's mother- founded DESA, a grassroots network that would grow into an organization dedicated to empowering women and their communities through education and social enterprise. DESA is assisting those struggling for self-sustainability in the years following a brutal period of war. The students participating in one of Peace Boats academic programmes held onboard the 88th Global Voyage visited DESA's educational center to learn more about war's lasting impact and the challenges people face in its aftermath.

From Piraeus to Marseilles participants of the 88th voyage's International Students Programmes studied the reasons behind war and what it takes to make peace.
As part of long-term, ongoing collaboration between Peace Boat and its partner organisations, two groups of international students joined during the mediterranean segment of the 88th Global Voyage. The students were from Tubingen University in Germany, where they are studying in the MA program in Peace and Conflict Research and International Affairs, and the Tehran Peace Museum in Iran's capital city. "We are trying to get an understanding of why people are always doing things to each other that they should not do, and which they also mostly regret after" says Andreas Hasenclever, Professor of International Relations and Peace Research at Tubingen University. Onboard, the students studied a variety of topics related to conflict analysis and the reconciliation process.

Nenad Fiser, former research analyst for ICTY, provided insight into the causes and consequences of the Yugoslav Wars.
A major focus of group's studies onboard was the war in the former Yugoslavia,between 1991 and 2001 across the territories of former Yugoslavia, including Croatia, that left an estimated 140,000 people dead and created an ethnic rift across the region that remains to this day. To guide and inform their studies on this issue students were led by two witnesses of the war: journalist Jasna Bastic, and research analyst Nenad Fiser. Both hail from Sarajevo, Bosnia, one of the cities most devastated by the conflict. With Ms. Bastic students explored the dangers of propaganda and its power to incite hatred and violence. "Media in the former Yugoslavia was responsible for hate speech and the creation of ethnic hatred" Ms. Bastic told students. "The war would not have been possible without media propaganda and media manipulation". Mr. Fiser was formerly a research analyst for the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia, a court established in 1993 to prosecute war criminals. Accountability is crucial to reconciliation, Mr. Fiser says, and without it the people of the former Yugoslavia continue to live in the war of the past and are unable to create sustainable peace and economy.

Romana Tomich describes how silk worms were first smuggled into Dubrovnik inside a DESA member's bra.
DESA began as a grassroots effort among local women. The women of DESA would visit refugees taking shelter in abandoned hotels and ask them, "What do you need?" They quickly found that what most people needed was knowledge: how to keep meat fresh without electricity, how to fetch water, how to cook with limited ingredients. "They had to remind themselves of the knowledge of their grandmas" said Ms. Tomich. By sharing knowledge and skills between them, the women of Dubrovnik created a network of resources that helped the community survive. One of the turning points for this community came in the form of a request from a refugee from the region of Konavle, where silk embroidery is a matter of personal pride and identity. She needed silkworms to make silk thread to embroider the traditional clothing she wore. To help her, a DESA member smuggled silkworm eggs out of the south of France by hiding them in her bra. The organization celebrated the hatching of its first silkworms in 1994. "It was the first time during the war that I saw hope again" Ms. Tomich told students. To this day DESA gives silkworm eggs and training to anyone who wishes to produce silk of their own. "This is what we do" Ms. Tomich says. "We use the knowledge that someone has, and use this person to be a multiplier".

Ms. Tomich shows students a quilt made by the women of DESA using pieces of recycled clothing.
Today, Ms. Tomich is project manager at DESA. Since getting its start during the war, DESA has developed into a rich educational and entrepreneurial resource. Women come to DESA to learn skills they need to help support themselves and their families. "Our premise is that the woman is the main pillar of the family" says Ms. Tomich. "If we economically empower her, the whole family will be healthy". Be it lessons in languages, tailoring, or PowerPoint, DESA helps people help each other. Many workshops provide the tools needed to start a small business, an invaluable opportunity in a job market as sparse as Croatia's. According to Ms. Tomich, having employees in Croatia is too expensive, and so finding a job can be challenging,especially for women over forty. For many, self-employment is the best available option.

German students turned their review of post-war Germany into a TV panel show.
Both Germany and Iran have had to deal with the consequences and legacy of war. While onboard, sthe students made presentations about how their countries have dealt with post-war recovery and reconciliation. The students from Tubingen university presented their country's experience in the form of a TV panel show called "Responsibility to Remember" in which the students examined Germany's successes and failures in its mission to both hold itself accountable and move on from its war past."Political recognition of war guilt is crucial" said student Marina Dolker. Germany has taken many steps to officially recognize its own guilt and to ensure the horrors of the past are not repeated

Tehran Peace Museum volunteer Ali Samadi sang a traditional Persian song in his group's presentation on Iranian history and culture.
In their presentation for Peace Boat participants, the students representing the Tehran Peace Museum described the challenges their country faced during and after the Iran-Iraq War waged from 1980 to 1988. Their museum stands as both a call for peace and a memorial for those that died as victims of chemical weapons during the war. Iranian students are volunteers in The Tehran Peace Museum who work with survivors of war with life long consequences caused by use of chemical weapons in war by Iraqi military. The students shared Persian culture with Peace Boat participants through through music,, art and customs, , encouraging them all to learn more about their country.